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Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

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Lord Jim is the story of a man named Marlow’s struggle to tell and to understand the life story of a man named Jim. Jim was a young man who goes to seas dreaming of becoming hero. He often fantasizes scenes of himself saving people and all these ideas come from the popular literature that he read. One day, his gets his chance when the ship he is aboard gets damaged. However, Jim fails to save anyone but, instead, he abandons the ship with the other crews. Jim is haunted by this guilt and the failure to do what he dreams for. His dreams of heroism lead to his death in the end of the novel.

Marlow is the narrator of the story. It is Marlow who pieces Jim’s story together and interprets most of the narrative for the reader. Throughout the novel, Marlow repeats the same phrase again and again, “he was ‘one of us’,” “… while Jim was ‘one of us’,” “I only knew he was ‘one of us’. ” Jim being ‘one of us’ is actually the major theme of the novel and as the story progresses, the meaning of ‘one of us’ varies. In the fifth chapter, Marlow says that Jim is ‘one of us’. Marlow and Jim are both sailors but this is only the surface meaning of what he means by Jim is ‘one of us’.

There are other men who are sailors too but Marlow did not refer to them as ‘one of us’, except Jim. Although it is not yet clear why Marlow is sympathetic to Jim at this point of the story, it is clear that Marlow is extremely impressed with Jim. It is also obvious that Marlow feels some immediate kinship to Jim and that is probably the deeper reason for calling Jim ‘one of us’. In chapter seven, Marlow said, “he was not one of them”. ‘Them’ refers the other crews who abandon the Patna. Jim was not one of them because, unlike Jim, they planned their desertion and they chose to jump off the Patna.

Although he was with them, he was not one of them. Marlow feels Jim is better than they are, for he did not plan his desertion. In fact, Jim blames his jumping on them, for he heard them calling. It is also that they did not want Jim on the boat and even threaten to kill him. Since he is not one of them, they fear he will testify against them and tell of their cowardice. Jim was different from them. He was not afraid of death, as we will find out more in the next chapter. In chapter 8, Jim tells his story of the Patna to Marlow.

He confesses that he deserted the shop because he felt helpless and because he could not control anything, not because he was afraid of dying. Marlow believes Jim’s story and accepts Jim is not afraid of death. Jim told Marlow his story because he wanted someone who could understand him. As Jim gave details of that horrible night on the Patna, Jim kept asking Marlow what Marlow would have done if he had been there. “What would you have done”. Marlow was not certain of what his reaction would have been either for he knows that he is only human.

Once again, Marlow emphasizes that Jim is ‘one of us’ but this time it seems that he is fully sympathized with Jim because this time Marlow is actually saying that Jim is ‘one of’ all of ‘us’. Jim is a representative common man and most people would have acted no differently than Jim. Marlow believes that most people, when they face with certain death, would react, like Jim and jump. Therefore, Jim is ‘one of’ all of ‘us’. This is the true meaning of ‘us’ throughout the novel. Jim does not like to face up with his weaknesses. His weaknesses chase him throughout the novel.

Since Jim is portrayed as ‘every man’ throughout the novel, Jim’s guilt and discomfort shows that every individual tries to hide away from his/her own negative traits. All humans find it uncomfortable to face the truth, so Jim is one of us. While it is true that Jim represents the common man, it does not mean that it is easy to understand Jim and his behavior easily. It is very important to have the sense of identification with him (the sense of understanding and sympathizing with). Jim is a romantic and in the novel, there are two persons who identify with Jim, they are, of course, Marlow and Stein.

They understand a romantic like Jim, since they are one themselves. For Marlow, he sees something in Jim that corresponds to a part of himself so the story of Lord Jim is partly saying something about Marlow too. These two men are closely connected. For Stein, Stein has learned from his past experiences and knows how to handle life. He identifies with the story of Jim for, like him, he has had bad experiences and lost opportunities. Stein says that he himself has had moments in which he has let the heroic dreams slip away but he still knows how to live in a world and this is what Jim always ignores.

Stein knows that Jim must learn to live with his romanticism and not take matters too seriously. In other words, the people who understand Jim and his behavior a romantic like Jim are also romantics themselves. This shows the significance of identification to understand Jim. A person must identify with Jim in order to understand Jim and his behavior, like Stein and Marlow do. They are romantics like Jim, and ‘only’ romantics want to be perfect. Romantics live for ideals, which is positive, it will push you forward. On the other hand, romanticism can also make you become a dreamer.

It takes you out of the everyday life and makes you keep dreaming about the ineffective fantasies. Jim is a little bit of both. After Jim, the dreamer, deserted the Patna, he realizes that he passed up a wonderful opportunity. If he had just stayed with the pilgrims on the Patna, he would have become a hero. He said to Marlow, “Ah, What a chance missed! ” Also, even after he jumped into the lifeboat, he still fools himself with unrealistic visions. He thinks about swimming back to the Patna, first to rescue 800 pilgrims, later he then thinks about swimming back to make sure that the ship has suck and the pilgrims are all dead.

Because of how Jim often fantasizes about such vision and his dream to live up to his imagined ideals, it makes him end up living in guilt and inability to escape the past (the Patna). This is totally romantic character. Marlow and Stein understand Jim’s behavior as they, too, share these romantic characters, except for one thing that they were different from Jim. Marlow, who somehow finds Jim so much like a part of himself, and Stein, a total romantic, did not end up their lives like Jim because they know how to live in a world that romantic ideals cannot easily come true.

They see the conflict between realism in the world’s reality and the romanticism of their minds and they are willing to tolerate and accept it although it may not fulfill their ideals. They also knew that this is what Jim really lacks. Jim’s excessive imagination keeps him at war with himself. Although there was nothing they could do to stop Jim’s behavior in the end of the novel, they understand Jim for what he chose to do. Jim had taken his code of honor too strictly. He did not think in a balanced way so he was carried way by guilt that would give him no peace.

He is haunted by his guilt of letting his chance of living up to his ideal go away and so in the end, he refuses to live in guilt again. He stands up to his code of honor and faces death bravely. In the end, he is the hero who atoned for his past sin. Lord Jim has not ‘jumped’ again, therefore he dies with self-esteem. This is a romantic death, for a totally romantic character of Lord Jim. In conclusion, Load Jim is more than a simple story of a romantic young man who atones for his act of cowardice by the later bravery and self sacrifice.

It is symbolic to all men, “one of us. By referring to Jim as “one of us”, Marlow tries to indicate that Jim belongs to the community of man in every way. Like Jim, mankind is weak and may fall from grace at any time. When man “jumps” like Jim, he is destined to live a life filled with guilt that is not easily escaped. It is because the decision to jump out of the Patna that makes Jim suffers from an obsession to regain his honor. Even Jim meets with great success later on in life, he is still haunted by his past disgrace. In the end, he already chose to give up his life for his mistake to atone for his past mistake and die in honor.

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